GE2015 minus 34: polarisation and politics

Posted: 3 April 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

This is the 17th of these countdown blog entries I’ve written and in many ways, it’s the hardest to write, simply because I’m both surrounded by, and immersed in, things about I could write, but don’t want to.

Last night’s television debate was a mixture of every game show you could think of, and a few that haven’t yet been invented. No one apparently came out of it worse than they went in, but then again, no-one came out that much ahead of where they’d been. Nicola Sturgeon seems to have impressed a lot of people who’d never seen her in action before, but in Scotland, those that loved her still love her and those who think less charitably about her continue to do so. No one exceeded expectations but no-one really fell short of them either.

Every party rolled out their faithful to profess that their candidate had ‘won’, but once again, no surprise there.

I’ll have something substantive to say about it after a gap, I think. Let the dust settle and then I’ll see. I’ll only make one observation: it wouldn’t surprise if SNP and Plaid Cymru actually put forward candidates in English constituencies in the next few days; wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

So, what else? Well, nothing really. There’s a lot I could write about, much I should write about, and two or three things I need to write about. But either I’m suffering from a lack of knowledge – in some topics – or a lack of incenmtive in others.

So, instead, bear with me for a few minutes while I write about polarisation. Every candidate standing for election in five weeks will tell you that they, or at leasy their party, has the solutions to the problems facing the United Kingdom. No matter what sphere of political endeavour – foreign policy, education, the health service, the justice system, or indeed the huge national debt –  they have the answer. Well, of course they do, because if they were to do something so politically foolish as admit that it’s a complex world and simple solutions are for simpletons, they’d be finished. Not only because their own party would disown them, so – goes the political wisdom – would the voters. Why vote for someone who says ‘I don’t know the solution to that one’ when there’s someone else, wearing a different colour rosette, who says ‘Ah-ha! He doesn’t know the solution, but I do…”

But the world is complex, and the solutions are equally complex. If you were to get the smartest economists in a room and ask each of to predict, say, where the FTSE 1000 will be in 2017, or what the GDP will be in the final quarter of 2018, or what inflation will be at in 15 months time… if any of them got the exactly correct answer to any one of them, let alone all three, it would be as much luck as judgement.

Long ago, when a financial director, I was responsible for putting together regular three year, monthly profit and loss and balance sheet forecasts for the company. I could predict all I wanted, but as anyone in business knows, anything over 18 months is crystal ball gazing. One one occasion, I came within 10% of what I’d predicted the current account balance would after three years, and I was genuinely astonished it was that close.

But the average voter (be fair, we all know some voters we’d describe as very average) doesn’t want to know the solutions are complicated, depend on any number of things going right – and nothing going wrong – and that at best, the predicted outcomes are fraught with uncertainty, likely to be way off, and let’s face it, are only supplied because the politcians think the voters demand simple answers.

Thing is, politicans think we voters demand simple answers. And I think they’re wrong. What the voters, the vast majority anyway, want is clearly explained answers, not the same thing at all. We’re asking the wrong questions of people seeking office. We shouldn’t be asking: how will you eliminate the national debt?” We should be asking “what’s your contingency plan if global oil prices rocket?” We shouldn’t be asking “what’re your education policies?” but “what are your education poliicies meant to achieve” and “If everything you want to happen does happen in the way you want, and when you want… what will the eductaion system look like?”

We let politicians decide what kind of political debate takes place in this country, not by censorship nor by outlawing meetings. We allow them to decide by not pulling them up enough when they speak bollocks. And that includes our ‘own’ side. If you’re a voter inclined towards Labour, and you think a Labour candidate is lying or at least doesn’t know what they hell they’re talking about, my experience is that you’d rather than have an ignorant labour politician elected than a knowledgable Tory. And the reverse is true, but even moreso. Tory supporters would rather have, say, Chris Grayling – widely regarded as the worst Lord Chancellor/Justice Secretary in generations –  elected than say, a widely respected, knowledgable and learned barrister… if the latter was a Labour candidate.

During the Q&A appearences by Ed Miliband and David Cameron last week, one of the questions thrown at them by the audience was “can you say something nice about your opponent?” and “is there anything you respect about them?” Most people groaned at the questions. I groaned at the answers. I think they’re damn good questions and it’s a mark of how much these two dislike each other that the answers were bascially “yes, I respect that he agrees with me about [insert topic]”.

Reaching back into personal history again, I used to help run a politics message board on CompuServe, back in the days when such things happened. The main moderator (called a Sysop) was a bloke by the name  of Steve Townsley, the very same fella who’s actually posted some replies to these countdown entries. We’ve known each other now for… almost 20 years. And yeah, Steve, that scares me as much as it probably does you. We were fortunate to have the wonderful Vincent Hanna as an honorary emeritus SysOp, and it was he who stressed the importance of the questions, for he fervently believed that it was just lazy to only praise your political opponents on policy agreements. He found it baffling that non-politicians didn’t understand that politicians with radically opposing views could be personal friends. Not all of them, of course. With some, there’s barely a patina of respect, let alone friendship. But such friendships do exist. 

The question’s out there. And I throw it open to you: name a political opponent and something you like or respect about them. 

Until tomorrow. 



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